The Best Salicylic Acid Shampoo for Hair Loss

As a medication that treats the outer layer of the skin, salicylic acid is most commonly found in acne products. When it comes to conditions such as acne, its chemical properties allow it to dry up the skin, reducing inflammation and providing a clearer appearance. Thanks to its keratolytic properties, it sloughs away the layers of skin on your scalp that contribute towards hair loss.

While this product has been known for its anti-dandruff benefits for years, you may want to learn more about how it addresses other conditions and tackles hair loss in general. With more information, you could find that you want to salicylic acid as part of your hair growth regime.

What is salicylic acid?

Despite its name, salicylic acid comes from natural sources. Originally found in the bark of white willow, it’s also present in a range of berries and peanuts. When it comes to your scalp, its keratolytic properties prevent it from shedding cells at an abnormal rate. This makes it useful for battling dandruff.

In addition to slowing down the rate at which your cells shed, salicylic acid unclogs pores. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any effect on sebum production. However, its other two properties mean it may prove useful in combating some hair loss conditions and promoting hair regrowth.

How does salicylic acid shampoos work?

Salicylic acid belongs to a group of acids called ‘hydroxys.’ In simple terms, this means it’s more oil-soluble than other acids, which allows it to work in areas where sebum production is prevalent. After working its way into your skin, its acidic properties separate themselves from the other elements and break down the components that hold unsightly and useless areas of skin together. As such, if an area of your scalp features a dermatological condition that’s crusty and far from conducive to hair growth, salicylic acid will stop it in its tracks.

Salicylic acid also has ‘desmolytic’ properties, which means it burrows into your pores and unclogs them. Through this deep cleaning action, it’s able to reduce inflammation. As inflammatory properties contribute towards poor hair growth, this means it’s giving your scalp a helping hand.

Evidence of salicylic acid’s benefits for hair is apparent in one study published in the Journal of Dermatology. Using a small group of participants, the researchers found that its use leads to a “significant” reduction in seborrheic dermatitis.

What can we treat with salicylic acid shampoos?

Salicylic acid won’t work for all types of hair loss. As it is a product that works superficially, it’s unlikely to have an affect on those suffering from androgenic alopecia. Interestingly, one ongoing area of research is focusing on the use of salicylic acid to speed up the transportation of hair loss products that tackle androgenic alopecia. Biologically this would make sense, as it unclogs pores, giving it the potential to work well alongside other products in those suffering from male-pattern baldness.

Salicylic acid’s benefits are well established in the world of dandruff and dermatitis. Therefore, if you’re suffering from a condition such as dandruff, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis.

Some schools of thought will also argue that its abilities to make the scalp healthier and remove sebum from unclogged pores mean it’s a treatment for androgenic alopecia too. However, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s more efficient at assisting other therapies rather than acting as a solo agent.

Does salicylic acid shampoo really work?

As far as dandruff, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis are concerned, there’s plenty of evidence to support the theory that salicylic acid works. One study in the Journal of Drugs Dermatology found that salicylic acid is more effective than coal tar in treating psoriasis and those who use it are less likely to experience a relapse in their condition.

Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment found that it is effective and safe in treating both dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Dandruff involves the scalp producing too many skin cells, which then die rapidly on top of one another. As skin cell production moves too rapidly for the body’s usual removal processes, the skin becomes flaky and dry. This means the scalp’s cells are no longer at optimal health, which then prevents full hair growth.

Through its keratolytic properties, salicylic acid tackles the cells and restores your scalp to its usual state. However, to see the benefits, you need to engage in continuous use. Seborrheic dermatitis is similar, except excess sebum production leads to inflammation and a greasy appearance. When any cell in the body is surrounded by inflammation, it no longer has access to the smooth blood flow that allows for the delivery of nutrients and removal of toxins. Thanks to salicylic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties, it can tackle the flaking element of this condition, as well as the inflammation that accompanies it.

Finally, it’s worth taking a look at a study that focuses on androgenic alopecia and salicylic acid. This study focuses on its use alongside steroids that tackle inflammation and chemicals that address the hormonal imbalance behind androgenic alopecia. While a significant proportion did experience hair regrowth, more than half didn’t see any benefits. This suggests that salicylic acid is effective for some people who have androgenic alopecia, but not for everyone.

What is the best salicylic acid shampoo?

You’ll typically find salicylic acid in shampoos that aim to tackle hair loss. Some will also contain natural products that reduce hair loss and promote hair regrowth. For example, Shea Moisture African Black Soap Deep Cleansing Shampoo also features Vitamin E, which nourishes skin and combats the antioxidants you encounter in day-to-day life. Working alongside salicylic acid, they move into the scalp’s first layer, promoting a healthier environment for hair to grow while removing excess dead skin.

It’s also a popular ingredient in mainstream shampoos, including Neutrogena’s T-Gel. While T-Gel has fewer natural ingredients, its simplistic nature means that there are more opportunities for salicylic acid to work. According to those who manufacture the product, it continues to work for up to seven hours after using it.

Bearing these types of products in mind, you may want to consider whether you want to prioritize salicylic acid as an ingredient, or whether you want to try it alongside other components. As with many aspects of the hair loss world, trying different products for short periods of time and monitoring your growth will lead you to the solution that’s best for your condition.

Are there any side effects of using salicylic acid shampoo?

Like many products, salicylic acid comes with some side effects. It’s not recommended for use in those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. According to, you may also want to watch out for the following side effects:

  • Skin irritation that ranges between being moderate and severe
  • Hives and other allergic reactions
  • Unusually warm skin
  • Skin peeling
  • A stinging sensation

If you want to make sure you’re not likely to encounter these sensations or reactions, perform a skin patch test before using it.

What % of Salicylic Acid in shampoo is best?

The strength of salicylic acid you should use depends on the condition you’re treating. For example, if you have psoriasis, you can use a product called Dermarest Psoriasis Shampoo and Conditioner that contains 3% salicylic acid. Using a stronger solution in severe conditions such as psoriasis means the solution has an opportunity to work into your scalp and provide the desired results.

In contrast, if you have a condition such as dandruff, you should aim for a lower strength. Products such as Avalon Organics Anti-Dandruff Shampoo contain 2% is effective and less likely to cause a reaction in those who are suffering from a milder condition.

Final Thoughts

Salicylic acid is unique in the sense that it works well amongst oily substances. This means it’s effective in areas such as the scalp, where there’s a lot of sebum production. While it’s effective at treating conditions such as psoriasis and dandruff on its own, it’s less likely to produce hair growth in those who suffer from androgenic alopecia, unless used alongside other solutions. While side effects are rare, it’s important to tailor the strength and your approach to the condition you’re suffering from. Overall, salicylic acid is an effective hair loss treatment, but won’t prove useful for everyone.